Wild2014Poster

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Writer: Nick Hornby

Country: USA

Runtime: 115 minutes

Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski

A potentially Oscar-worthy performance from Reese Witherspoon in a woman-against-the-wilderness drama

You wait ages for a film about a woman trekking alone through the wilderness and then two come along at once. The obvious comparison for Wild is Tracks, another single-word title that appeared earlier this year (and reviewed here on 23rd April). I think Tracks was very underrated, but those who couldn’t relate to its somewhat abrasive protagonist, especially given the almost non-existent backstory, might be more warmly disposed towards Tracks. Scripted by Nick Hornby, and based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail”, this is a story where the heroine’s past is a prime motivation for the journey she undertakes.

Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed, in what is her most substantial part and performance since Walk the Line. The film opens with her partway through the journey, sitting on a rocky outcrop, peeling off bloodstained socks and then ripping off one of her toenails. Glamorous it isn’t. This is about as far away from the ditzy blondes of Witherspoon’s early roles as it’s possible to get.

From this point we flash back to the journey’s starting point, which builds sympathy for Strayed in a comical scene where she struggles to stand up in the huge overfilled backpack that she is wearing. We then follow her along the journey, but with regular flashbacks to her earlier existence. Laura Dern appears as Cheryl’s mother, Bobbie, who has escaped a relationship with an abusive husband and is now enrolled as a student in the same university as her daughter. There is also an ex-husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski) who Cheryl does not seem to have got over. However, tragic events lead to Strayed’s life going off the rails. In undertaking her ambitious trek she is trying to become a different sort of person.

Needless to say, there are hardships, mishaps and dangers that have to be faced, although nothing as extreme as in films such as 127 Days or Touching the Void. But this is less an adventure film than a film in which adventure plays a part. What really matters here is the transformation of the heroine, a change that is brilliantly, and movingly conveyed by Reese Witherspoon in a performance that could stand her in contention for the Oscars.

Rating: 9/10

Wild was shown as part of the London Film Festival. The UK release date is January 2015.

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